Armenia and Azerbaijan struggle over disputed Nagorno-Karabakh area

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After decades of conflict flared up in the Caucasus in southeastern Europe, fierce fighting continues.

Dozens of deaths have been reported in battles between armed forces fighting for Armenia and Azerbaijan.

At the center of the conflict is a dispute over control of the Nagorno-Karabakh mountain region.

It is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since the end of the war in 1994.

Tens of thousands of people died during the war and a million others had to leave their homes.

Other countries fear that the recent fighting may come from the region and involve neighboring powers such as Turkey, Russia and Iran.

  • What’s behind the conflict?

Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, supported by Armenia, said 31 of their soldiers have since died and some lost positions have been reclaimed.

Image rightsReutersImage descriptionResidents, including children, hid in air raid shelters in the capital, Stepanakert, during the shelling

Azerbaijan said its armed forces inflicted “heavy losses” and the Armenian shelling injured 26 civilians.

Both parties said they had mobilized more soldiers and declared martial law in some areas.

The fighting is the worst in the conflict since 2016, when at least 200 people were killed in clashes.

Turkey has already declared its support for Azerbaijan, while Russia – which has military bases in Armenia but is also friends with Azerbaijan – has called for an immediate ceasefire.

Armenia has accused Turkey of providing direct military assistance to Azerbaijan, a claim that Azerbaijan denies.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Armenia must end its “occupation” of the region immediately, which would end the long crisis.

In a BBC interview, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan accused Azerbaijan of sabotaging a peaceful solution to the conflict and insisted that Armenia must defend the region.

Nagorno-Karabakh – key factors

  • A mountain region of approx. 4,400 km²
  • Traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks
  • In the Soviet era it became an autonomous region within the Republic of Azerbaijan
  • Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the majority of the population is ethnically Armenian
  • An estimated one million people were displaced by the war in 1988-1994 and about 30,000 were killed
  • Separatist forces captured additional territory around the enclave in Azerbaijan in the war of the 1990s
  • Since a truce in 1994, the stalemate has largely prevailed
  • Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan
  • Russia has military bases in Armenia

What’s the latest from the battlefield?

On Monday, Nagorno-Karabakh authorities said another 15 of their soldiers had been killed. They reported 16 deaths in the military on Sunday.

More than 100 people were injured.

Image rightsEPAImage descriptionArmenia released photos of allegedly destroyed Azerbaijani tanks

The self-proclaimed republic said its armed forces had destroyed four Azerbaijani helicopters, 36 tanks and armored personnel carriers, according to the Armenpress news agency.

It also said that it killed many Azerbaijani troops.

Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said that “fighting is raging of various levels,” adding that “Defense Army units” are “counteracting” several areas.

Image rightsEPAImage descriptionAzerbaijan released pictures of allegedly damaged Armenian armored vehicles

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said the country’s armed forces are continuing the “counterattack” and moving from “advantageous positions liberated by the Armenian armed forces”.

It was said that “the enemy suffered heavy losses”.

Azerbaijan previously confirmed the loss of a helicopter but said the crew survived and reported that 12 Armenian air defense systems had been destroyed. It faced other losses.

Azerbaijan said Monday that 26 civilians were injured in the Armenian shelling and accused Armenia of targeting densely populated areas.

Azerbaijan said five members of the same family were killed in shelling by Armenians on Sunday.

The accident claims made by Armenia and Azerbaijan have not been independently verified.

At least 16 people died in border collisions in July. This led to the largest demonstration in years in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, calling for the region to be retaken.

The international response

  • UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “extremely concerned” and urged both sides to stop the fight
  • Russia’s foreign minister held urgent talks with both the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders
  • France, which has a large Armenian community, has called for an immediate ceasefire and dialogue
  • Iran, which borders both Azerbaijan and Armenia, offered to broker peace talks
  • President Donald Trump said the US wanted to stop the violence

What is the background?

In 1988, towards the end of Soviet rule, Azerbaijani troops and Armenian secessionists started a bloody war that left Nagorno-Karabakh in the hands of ethnic Armenians when an armistice was signed in 1994.

Tens of thousands died in fighting and many ethnic Azerbaijanis were forced to flee their homes.

It is now a de facto independent region that is heavily reliant on Armenia’s support. But it is not recognized by any UN member, including Armenia.

Parts of the Azerbaijani territory around the enclave are also under Armenian control.

Image rightsEPAImage descriptionThe shelling damaged houses in the city of Martuni

The negotiations have so far failed to produce a lasting peace agreement and the dispute in the region remains one of the “frozen conflicts” of post-Soviet Europe.

Karabakh is the Russian rendering of an Azerbaijani word that means “black garden” while Nagorno is a Russian word that means “mountainous”. Ethnic Armenians prefer to call the region Artsakh, an ancient Armenian name for the region.

Over the years, soldiers on both sides have been killed in sporadic ceasefire violations. Inland Armenia has suffered severe economic problems due to the closure of the borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Russia, France and the US jointly lead the Organization for Security and Cooperation in the European Minsk Group, which has tried to put an end to the dispute.

Related topics

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  • Azerbaijan
  • Armenia
  • Nagorno-Karabakh

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